Fish Radio
Water rights for salmon or coal mine? DNR to decide: Comments extended to April 9
February 27, 2015                                 

Chuitna strip coal mine area in Upper Cook Inlet

Chuitna strip coal mine area in Upper Cook Inlet

 This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch. Will it be water rights for salmon or a coal strip mine? How you can weigh in after this –

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The state is getting ready to choose between giving water rights to sustain wild salmon or to Alaska’s largest coal mine proposed at Upper Cook Inlet. If it opts for the mine, the decision will set a troubling legal precedent – it means the same could soon be coming to a river near you.

It would be the first time in Alaska’s state history that we would allow an Outside corporation to mine completely through a salmon stream. And the purpose is to ship coal to China. There would be no domestic use for this coal. And it’s really a very dangerous precedent because if they can do it here in Cook Inlet they will be able to do it anywhere in the state. 

Bob Shavelson is a director at Cook Inlet Keeper. The issue stems from an application filed back in 2009 by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition to ‘reserve’ water-rights to Middle Creek, a key tributary of the salmon-rich Chuitna River. The state stalled its decision until two years ago when a Superior Court judge ordered DNR to prioritize the Chuitna application. Meanwhile, mine developer PacRim Coal filed its own application to divert water from the creek to get to the underlying coal.

Based on PacRim data, the first phase alone would remove 20 square miles of salmon habitat, and discharge of 7 million gallons a day of mine waste into the Chuitna River PacRim aims to mine 12 million tons of low grade coal each year for 25 yearsPacRim insists they can restore the habitat after all the coal is tapped. Shavelson has his doubts –

Never, ever in the history of restoration has anyone ever dug down 300 feet to the geology and the hydrology of a salmon system and put it back together. It’s kind of like dropping a cake on the floor and pretending you can put it back together. And experts have not been able to find any examples of where it has been done, and PacRim also can’t show where it’s been done. 

The project also includes building roads, power lines, a workers camp, raised conveyor belts and a two mile long dock extending into Cook Inlet to load awaiting coal tankers.  

DNR waters resources Chief Dave Schade agreed that the water rights decision is precedent setting, and that it comes down to “saying yes to one applicant, and no to the other.”

The public comment period has been extended to April 9. Unless there is an appeal, a decision could be made 30 days after. Bob Shavelson –

It’s a very simple choice. Are we going to protect wild, healthy Alaska salmon or dig coal so a couple of Texas billionaires can sell it to China.

Find links to DNR at our website

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, serving Alaska’s fishing communities since 1910. On the web at – In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.